Literary Off-Roading

Yesterday, I resumed work on the first of a series of novellas. I had around 4K already banked, and I’m shooting (agressively) to have three 25,000 word novellas drafted by January. It’s about the speed that I wrote Hexomancy in April/May, with the added challenge of being three stories instead of one (though they are the same series, and follow sequentially).

That’s the context. Here’s the blog-worthy thing:

Today, I went massively off-plan. Like, ‘oh, the main guest star is this character, not that character!’ off-book, including creating a whole different backstory for that guest, which then called for completely re-writing Act Three to suit the new character.

That’s…scary, to be honest. I loved the new approach, and I think it is very promising. Generally, when my subconscious suggests an alternative plot approach or lobbies to promote a character from secondary character to guest-star, or extra to secondary, I try to listen. I’m generally a very conscious writer – I think ‘What makes sense to happen here?’ or ‘How should this work?’ and then answer that question for myself. I don’t often rely on ‘inspiration’ to come along and deliver a story idea while I’m pounding the keys.

So when inspiration comes along, I take those gifts very seriously, because it generally means that my brain has figured out how to tell the story in an even cooler fashion, and that I should listen, using my conscious skills to incorporate the idea given to me by my unconscious.

I do this all the time, in little ways. Even with my mostly-outlining style, I try to leave room for my subconscious to contribute – set dressing (both physical and worldbuilding nuggets), character inflection, and more.

For me, character voice almost always has to emerge in the writing. I blame my RPG background – just like when I’m gaming, I have to inhabit characters for a while, spend time with thm, before I can really lock down their voice.

I think the change will make the story stronger, but it does mean that four days into drafting, I now need to re-outline the rest of the story (I’m at about the 35-40% mark), which involves completely re-working the plan for the back half of Act Two and all of Act Three.

If this were a novel, I’d probably be in more trouble, going off-book in a major way only 9,000 words in. But for a novella, I think I’ll do fine. And if it goes poorly, I’ll only have to fix a 25,000 word chunk of story, as opposed to 100,000 words.

What will this big change lead to? Only time, and more writing, will tell.

How to Write a Novel in a Month

Hi folks! Since NaNoWriMo is just around the corner, I thought I’d re-post and expand on my piece from earlier this year, How to Write a Novel in Four Weeks.

I wrote the first draft of Hexomancy, the third Ree Reyes novel, in a month and a day (April 14th to May 15th). The draft was 72,326 words, and it was written in twenty-eight days of production (I gave myself Saturdays off to recover, and I had a couple of low-production days).

Hexomancy was written twice as quickly as any novel I’ve written before, and I think the first draft was stronger that any other, as well, partially thanks to the accumulation of experience, but also due to the power of momentum. After the first couple of days, I was averaging 2,800 to 3,300 words a day in two sessions a day of around 45 minutes to 60 minutes each.

Here are some factors that went in to my being able to write a complete, if short, draft in just over a month of calendar time.

1) Hexomancy was the fourth Ree Reyes story, following two novels and a novella. By now, I know the characters, they have pre-existing relationships that I can leverage into lots of tension and sparks, making interpersonal scenes zoom along fairly well. I had a clear vision of what the big concept for the novel was, what the major sub-plot would be, and what the big, explosive ending would be. Those all got me very excited to write the novel, so I started with a ton of energy, writing 15K words in the first week.

2) The series is designed to be light, energetic, and action-packed urban fantasy. Much of the setting is our own world, and most of the rest of the setting I’d already created in previous books in the series. This means I didn’t have to do much world development on top of what I already had, which might slow me down as I have to create whole new systems or settings before moving on with a scene. I broke down the new settings during the outline stage, so I knew enough about each of them to flesh them out on the fly as I wrote. If I were writing sociological SF that was light on action and long on politics, I don’t think I’d have been writing anywhere near as fast. But the important thing was that I was passionate about the story, the characters, and I knew what kind of experience I wanted the reader to have with the story, so I could write to that aesthetic.

3) Most importantly (for me), I outlined the whole novel before I started writing. This was a chapter-by-chapter outline, though some of my chapters were more like beats, as I discovered going through and seeing places where a beat was a chapter, or a chapter turned out to be just a beat. I’ve been outlining more and more for my work, between reading Rachel Aaron’s 2K to 10K, following Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds, and perhaps most importantly, taking the Writing on the Fast Track class with Mary Robinette Kowal, which focused on writing fast by outlining and training for better discipline.

4) Writing quickly meant that I always had the story in mind. I was always excited about the story, even on the days when I consciously stepped away to relax and let myself recovery. But I never spent too much time away from the novel, writing six days a week, usually twice a day. And I always left myself clues at the end of any session as to what was going to happen next, by leaving the outline/beats at the bottom of my Scrivener document. That meant that whenever I started a session, I could take three to five minutes to read what I’d last written and to remind myself what was coming next. And from there, it was off to the races.

5) I used a writing soundtrack – this is something I have done for years, and it helps me get into the right frame of mind. If you’re curious, here’s the playlist I used for Hexomancy.